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Sonia Chan: Secretariat for Administration and Justice not a supervisory body

The Secretary also claimed that the government will start consultations on the evaluation system apropos official accountability by year end

The Secretary for Administration and Justice, Sonia Chan Hoi Fan, stressed yesterday during a plenary session at the Legislative Assembly (AL) that her Secretariat’s field of responsibility does not encompass the supervising or inspection of the entire public body on recruitment.
Yesterday, the AL had a debate session proposed by legislator Leong Veng Chai regarding the recent recruitment scandal of the Cultural Affairs Bureau (IC) slammed by the city’s anti-corruption watchdog, the Commission Against Corruption (CCAC).
CCAC revealed that IC had singularly avoided launching open or central recruitment systems to hire its workers but instead did so via acquisition of services.
Secretary Chan reported that the few recruitment cases via contract labour agreement, the hiring of workers for particular task or job, have all been resolved.
For recruitment via acquisition of services, apart from the IC cases, Secretary Chan said less than 20 such cases were discovered among departments under the five secretariats, adding that cases are gradually being resolved.
In response to the accusation made by legislator Leong Veng Chai that the Secretariat for Administration and Justice had also recruited large number of workers via acquisition of services the Secretary denied the accusation, saying that there are no contract labour agreements and that only three individuals were recruited through acquisition of service.
Aside from bodies such as the CCAC and Commission of Audit (CA) overseeing government departments, several lawmakers expressed their view that the Secretariat had the responsibility to manage departments.
“I agree CCAC is a body performing supervision and investigation,” commented Legislator Ng Kuok Cheong. “But on the other hand, the government itself has the function of managing itself but not to always rely upon third parties to investigate and supervise as to manage.”
The pan-democratic legislator also remarked upon the coincidence between the period when reports made by CCAC came out and the dismissal of related departments and retirement of department heads – the WiFi Go case and IC recruitment.
With regard to IC’s ‘illegal recruitment’, legislator Ho Ion Sang denounced the reason offered previously by IC about related superiors not being familiar with the law which led to the ‘illegal recruitment’, revealing that related directors of the department had, in fact, consulted the department’s legal support team on the recruitment matter.
Meanwhile, legislators questioned the system of official accountability among civil servants.
Secretary Chan disclosed that consultation of the evaluation system will commence by the end of this year.
“The evaluation system might combine the performance of departments, individuals and superiors [in order] to produce objective data to support the implementation of an official accountability system,” said the Secretary.

Complaint mechanism
Unionist and lawmaker Ella Lei Cheng I pointed out the absence of a complete complaint mechanism for civil servants, totally depending instead on CCAC and CA.
“Many of the current civil servants who are aware of issues have no reasonable complaint mechanism as to reporting these problems themselves,” said Lei. “The government has been discussing this for many years but the mechanism is still not available.”
In response, the Secretary claimed that the complaint mechanism will be established by next month.
In addition, a third party committee will be responsible to analyse and follow up on complaints lodged.
Although the advice offered by CCAC does not have the effect of punishment or penalty, Secretary Chan asserted that the watchdog’s advice is highly referenced.
“We should make the reports by CCAC or CA a piece of mirror to check if we made the same mistakes,” said the Secretary, indicating that departments should not employ legal loopholes.